Christmas cookies, shortbread, biscuits.

Personal touch ... hard to go wrong with homemade, say experts. Photo: Mark Chew

Should you always buy the boss a Christmas present? What impression will it give if you do (or don't)? and what gifts should you always avoid?

It's an honourable sentiment. But, depending on your relationship with your boss, buying them a present can feel more like complicated tactical manoeuvring than caring gesture of appreciation. Especially if you're concerned about the connotations of the gift or the connotations of giving a gift in the first place. Is it appropriate to buy them something? Will you look like you're fishing for brownie-points or (worse) like you're brown nosing?

It's also important to give the right impression. You want to give something that's thoughtful and personal without overstepping the professional relationship mark. You want to show respect by giving them something classy, but show you're not so wealthy that you don't need a pay rise next year. And you want to show that you're thankful for your job without looking like you're just sucking up or are after something in return.

So, how can you minimise the stress of buying for your boss and navigate this ethically prickly Christmas pine cone? Read on to find out.

First: to buy or not to buy at all? Director of Inspirational Workplaces, Iain Crossing says that it depends on the environment. "There isn't a blanket answer," he says. "Use your own knowledge of the work-place values and culture to see how [giving a gift] will be perceived." Personal Shopper and Stylist, Anne Stringer (www.fashionfruit.net) believes if you're on good terms with your boss, it is definitely worthwhile: "If you like them and you have a good relationship, then the thought counts."

Your motivation for giving a gift is another factor worth considering, says Crossing. "Is it really the gift of giving or are you hoping for some kind of quid pro quo? When thinking about whether or not to buy a gift and what gift to give, consider how your boss might perceive it and what they will be comfortable with."

When it comes to the sensitive issue of how much to spend, Stringer says (tongue-in-cheek): "It depends how much you like them or how far up the ladder you want to get!" In all seriousness, she suggests no more than than $200 or alternatively, doing a little DIY: "Be creative and make something up." Crossing also thinks that home-made gifts are a winner. "Making something yourself - whether it's a cake or a hand cream, for example - is warm and shows interest," he says. It also lessens the chance of your gift being misinterpreted. "As soon as monetary value is involved it amplifies the risk of a perception of reciprocity."

As far as gifts to avoid go, Crossing lists alcohol and money as being high-risk and easy to misconstrue. Stringer, on the other hand, says: "No art pieces, as they're subjective and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Also, no romantic getaways or adult sex toys!"

If you're looking for gifts that are a safe bet, Crossing again suggests anything home made. He also recommends gifts that can be shared in the work place: "Things everybody can share are great as they help spread the Christmas vibe. Kris Kringles are good too as they're culturally designed to circumvent risk." Stringer, on the other hand, doesn't mind a riskier present, provided you feel comfortable with your boss: "A pen or a bottle of plonk [is good] but, that's boring. Think outside the box and book an adventure they won't forget....sky diving, personal shopping or a styling makeover."

Ultimately, there are only guidelines, not rules for gift-giving. The keys lie in your intent in giving as well as the ability to recognise the unique culture of your work and your relationship to your boss. "For some people their co-workers and boss are like family, so the boundaries change depending on your work place," Crossing says. Stringer agrees: "As I see it, there are no rules, it all depends on the relationship you have [with your boss] and how well you know them; don't suck up and don't cross the line!"